faustus topper

Danny Lee Wynter as Mephistopheles, Jodie McNee as Faustus and Barnaby Power as Lucifer.

Pictures: Manuel Harlan

Faustus: That Damned Woman

Birmingham Rep


Faustus that Dammed woman, is Chris Bush’s bold but mostly reductive retelling of Marlowe’s date with the devil and a man who sells his soul for a lifetime of hedonistic pleasure.

Here we begin in the 17th century and witness a young girl, Johanna Faustus who is traumatised by the knowledge that her mother was wrongly executed by men as a witch. Johanna summons the devil, in the shape of Barnaby Power, and exchanges her soul for 144 years to be taken in any year or century ahead in time, thereby giving her the ability to leap thousands of years to examine the world and gain the knowledge to right all of its wrongs.

It has the basis of great potential and indeed there are moments of very expressive theatre but largely we are left with a confusing muddle of Bill and Ted time stops, highlighting a couple of notable women of science whose success was no thank to the severe limitations imposed on them by Men.

The first is Elizabeth Garrett the first woman doctor, battling the male establishment for acceptance into the medical profession. The second is two times recipient of the Nobel Prize physicist Marie Curie. Here we are reminded that although a gifted scientist she was not allowed to vote.


Emmanuella Cole who takes on a variety of roles including Dr Elizabeth Garrett

Furthermore Bush divisively depicts her as brilliant but serving wife who puts her husband Pierre’s work ahead of hers, where in truth it was her husband who said he would give up his work just to be with her.  

There’s no time to hear about anyone else as from there we fly hundreds and then thousands of years into the future. Faustus has opened an institute for computing and plans to mind map the world. In one scene she echoes a Lord Sugar type, berating a young woman employee for leaving her job to tend to her sick mother thankfully she’s not fired.

Overall this retelling is an interesting but highly personalised and narrow concept. To create some needed balance Johanna is not exactly pure herself with outbursts of drunken debauchery and violence, all in the quest for power and knowledge.  

However other than a lot of historical finger wagging about facts we already know, and reminders that `it’s a man’s world’. there is no effective conclusion. For all of her acquired knowledge, Miss Faustus ends up in the same place she starts, did she dream it or is she mad, we don’t know.

Putting aside the content there are some superb performances. Jodie Mcnee spends most of the time in energetic disbelief, sprinting about, passionately campaigning against and for her ambition to heal the world. Danny Lee Wynter is the elegant Mephistopheles, escorting Faustus through the centuries and the instrument of her will, all done foppishly with a wave of his lace handkerchief and a devil may care laugh. Alicia Charles takes on several roles as does Emmanuella Cole and both showed exceptional range.

Director Caroline Byrne resolves to some basic frozen tableaus to affect the time travel passage’s with an assortment of projected images on to an adventurous conical shaped set that unfortunately restricts viewers in the auditorium seating extremes. It was frustrating to not be able to fully see all the action and this really is an unforgivable design error.

This retelling is more of a conversation piece as to `what if’ rather than is able to offer us any solutions, as Johana ultimately fails in her attempts for change. However we get it we understand. Women have been marginalised, we need to do better, we are making change happen. If only we had a time machine and could travel forward a thousand years to find out what happens? To 07-03-20.

Jeff Grant


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